Red Flags to Watch for in Preschoolers

Play can teach you a lot about your child’s developmental level. By carefully watching their play behavior, you may see red flags that could indicate autism spectrum disorders. If you suspect your
child is displaying red-flag behavior, be sure to discuss this with your pediatrician, who will be able to guide you to specialists who work with autistic children.

Age:  12-24 Months

Typical Behavior:

  • Imitates actions in play (e.g., claps when you clap)
  • Interest in parent/caregiver
  • Seeks caregiver out to meet his/her needs
  • Exhibits pretend play (e.g., using banana as a phone)
  • Points at interesting objects to direct adults’ attention
  • Shares delight in a toy

Red Flags:

  • Decreased/no imitation of action in play
  • Shows more interest in objects
  • Gets desired objects on his/her own, even at the risk of danger
  • limited/no pretend play
  • Infrequent pointing to show an object/event to another
  • Limited response to joint attention

Ages:  2-3 Years

Typical Behavior:

  • Demonstrates interest in and affection for other children
  • Imitates adults and/or playmates
  • Uses pretend actions with inanimate objects
  • participates in group play and games
  • Plays with a variety of toys appropriately

Red Flags:

  • Low interest in other children
  • Little or no imitation of adults or playmates
  • Deficit in make-believe play with dolls, animals or people
  • Prefers to pay alone, sensitive to intrusions
  • Inability to play with toys in the typical ways

Ages:  3-4 Years

Typical Behavior:

  • Follows directions of others during role-playing and directs others during role-playing
  • Varied play themes

Red Flags:

  • Problems in following play themes introduced by others
  • Inflexible routines as well as narrow interests during play


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